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You will volunteer/ National-service schemes ultimately are a self- contradiction
Feb 7, 2002 - Gazette
President Bush's announcement that he has formed the USA Freedom Corps to be an umbrella for AmeriCorps, the Senior Corps, the Peace Corps and the newly formed Citizen Corps (to help with homeland security) has already convinced some longtime advocates of mandatory national service that their day has come.
National service has the ring of a call to higher duty that, on its face, many Americans will rush to embrace. However, in all of its various forms this is a bad idea that Americans should resist if they value freedom and a genuine sense of community.
Citizens should pause and take a deeper look at true service, true patriotism and the implications of mandatory service.
Several congressmen already have introduced legislation to bring back some form of the military draft. With sour memories of the inequities of the draft during Vietnam still alive - and with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's comment that conscription is not really needed and maybe not desirable in the specialized military of the 21st century - such proposals are not likely to take flight.
But other such notions loom on the horizon.
Last fall, two Republican congressmen, Nick Smith of Michigan and Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, introduced a "Universal Military Training and Service Act." It would require all males 18 to 22 to "receive basic military training and education as a member of the armed forces" for "not less than six months," with possible extensions and an ongoing "call-back" obligation. Those with religious or moral objections to military service would be required to participate in "a national service program."
Meanwhile, advocates await their moment for some variant of a "bullets or bedpans" mandatory national service program that would give all young people a "choice" among military or service programs established and supervised by the government.
A recent article in the Internet magazine Salon.com argued that such a corps would be just the ticket, not only to preserve national unity when memories of the terrorist attack fade, but to replace nasty old American individualism and materialism with an ethic of service.
It is important to understand that mandatory service is the obverse of - and will undermine - the genuine community that develops from true volunteerism.
Voluntary service arises from impulses and moral beliefs within a citizen and is exercised in the way a citizen chooses, which is especially important in a country as large and diverse as ours.
That community spirit has already been undermined by government social programs - though the response to the terrorist attacks shows it certainly hasn't died out - and would be further subverted by a program that forced people to do service as the state defines service.
Requiring people to give two years of their lives to serve the purposes of the state also amounts to involuntary servitude, no matter how high-minded or commendable the form of service might be. It not only prevents people from making their own decisions about their own lives, and about how they will choose to serve others, but it also provides by force a low-cost service force and expropriates whatever a person might be able to earn during the time of servitude.
Voluntary service is healthy, even essential to a free society. And it is all around us in the Pikes Peak region in the form of myriad philanthropic, charitable and other endeavors great and small in which people give daily of themselves in some way. It's about citizens pitching in their own time and resources for causes they believe in.
While mandatory service might be helpful to some, on balance it undermines and brings into disrepute the very values it claims to promote. True patriots will be alert to the oxymoronic siren call of "mandatory volunteerism" and resist it at every turn.
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